Our goal as educators is to help our students reach their full potential. When we work with students who struggle to learn concepts, we try multiple strategies to help that child succeed and grow. What happens when we meet Advanced Learners who already knows the majority of the content we’re teaching? Or a student who masters concepts after one example? Many times, lots of “early finisher” work. Think of how much time gifted students spend waiting for other students. Is this helping them reach their potential? There is a better way.
What does it mean to be gifted and talented, to be an Advanced Learners?
There are multiple facets of giftedness. Typically in schools, we identify academically or intellectually gifted students by looking at a range of assessments. Mentally gifted students include those with an IQ of 130 or higher. Students who are artistically gifted are sometimes labeled “talented”. There are few identification processes and education programs for the artistically gifted, however. The U.S. Department of Education broadly identifies this type of giftedness under the definition of students “who give evidence of high achievement capability”, but has stated that this is one of our country’s most underserved populations.
Studies have found that it is our advanced students, not our struggling ones, who’s academic growth is stagnating. There is no denying the importance of putting all efforts towards struggling learners, for them to be advanced learners. However, it is not fair that other students get less effort put into their learning progress. Of course, none of us are giving advanced students less effort on purpose. It is just so hard to make sure everyone is getting what he or she needs.
As a classroom teacher, if you have to choose between remediating to bring someone up to grade level or letting that student wait while you focus on helping an above level student grow further, we help the lower student. It’s like triage. In an ER, they treat the most immediate needs first. However, triage doesn’t work in education. If we provide less teaching effort for advanced students, they are denied opportunities to stretch their learning potential.
How can we improve?
In order to better serve gifted and talented students, here are a few mindsets we first need to acquire:
- EVERY child should come to school each day to stretch and grow.
- The measure of progress and growth is competition with oneself rather than competition against others.
- School should be “…an escalator on which students continually progress, rather than a series of stairs, with landings on which advanced learners consistently wait.” (Carol Ann Tomlinson)
We live in an educational system filled with standardization, which makes it extremely difficult to live these mindsets. As George Couros, a keynote speaker for our winter conference says, “It’s how you innovate inside the box that counts.” Sometimes embracing these mindsets requires us to restructure lessons, units, pacing, grouping, and possibly scheduling. If we know that it is best for students, we need to do whatever it takes, and we need to change what we can control.
Ready to make some changes?
There are specific teaching strategies that are perfect instructional practices to engage our advanced students.
- Project-, Problem-, or Inquiry-Based Learning: Gifted students learn best with work that is relevant and addresses real problems. In addition to many other educational benefits, project-based learning allows students to synthesize rather than summarize information. These approaches also incorporate non-traditional assessments that are more suitable for gifted students to show academic growth.
- Arts Education, Arts Integration, and STEAM: The National Association of Gifted Children states, “Arts education can benefit academically gifted students by increasing the complexity and rigor of the curriculum, promoting extensive use of a variety of problem-solving strategies, heightening student motivation to pursue a topic of interest in depth, and developing rich skills in communicating with varied audiences.” Of course, we agree.
- Grouping Models and Differentiation: While “tracking” is certainly not best practice, flexible grouping is, especially for gifted students. The greatest achievement gains for gifted students happen when they are placed with other gifted students, and when they are presented with the appropriately differentiated curriculum.
If we fail to meet the needs of these advanced learners, they will form learning gaps and challenges which will inhibit academic growth and performance. They will become disengaged. Worst of all is the incredible untapped potential that goes unrealized. Let’s focus our efforts on helping these students become academic risk-takers, and enable them to embrace their talents, accept challenges, and achieve more than they thought they could.
Dyan is a third grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.